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World News, International

UPDATE 2 — ‘No evidence’ of plane wreckage more than 24 hours after last contact

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (BNO NEWS) — Rescue workers have found ‘no evidence of any wreckage’ during the first 24 hours of an international search involving ships and aircraft from several countries for an airliner that disappeared between Malaysia and Vietnam, the airline said on early Sunday.

“An international search and rescue mission from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam was mobilized this morning. At this stage, they have failed to find evidence of any wreckage,” Malaysia Airlines said in a statement on early Sunday morning, more than 24 hours after the aircraft dropped off radar screens. It said ships continued to search overnight while aircraft resumed searching at first daylight.

Besides ships and aircraft from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, other countries such as China and the United States are also assisting in the effort to find the missing plane. China, which has the largest number of nationals on the aircraft’s passenger list, sent three navy vessels to the region where the plane is believed to have crashed.

The Pentagon said the USS Pinckney, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer that was already in the South China Sea, was also en-route and could be in the vicinity of the possible crash site within 24 hours. A P-3C Orion aircraft also departed Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan to bring in long-range search, radar and communications capabilities.

The search for the missing airliner is focused on an area of the South China Sea, roughly halfway between Kota Bharu in the Malaysian state of Kelantan and Vietnam’s southernmost province of Ca Mau.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200 aircraft, was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members when it disappeared over the South China Sea at around 2:40 a.m. local time on Saturday. The aircraft had departed Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia at 12:41 a.m. and was scheduled to land in the Chinese capital of Beijing at around 6:30 a.m.

2 on missing Malaysia Airlines jet used stolen passports, raising questions

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (BNO NEWS) — Two of the passengers aboard a Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared over the South China Sea on Saturday were traveling with European passports that were stolen in Thailand, officials said, raising questions about the cause of the presumed crash.

Malaysia Airlines initially released a passenger list that included the names of Italian citizen Luigi Maraldi, 37, and Austrian citizen Christian Kozel, 30, but officials from both countries confirmed neither were not on the flight and had their passports stolen while in Thailand in recent years.

“Yes we can confirm [he was not on board]. [The] Austrian is safe, he was not on the plane. His passport was stolen in 2012 and reported to the authorities.” Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Weiss said. In Italy, foreign ministry spokesman Aldo Amati confirmed Maraldi was also not on the aircraft and that his passport was stolen “one year ago” in Thailand.

The revelation raised questions about the possible cause of the aircraft’s presumed crash and whether foul play may be involved. Malaysian authorities, responding to the reports, said they were unable to rule out terrorism or any other possible cause, while U.S. officials said establishing the real identities of those two passengers would be a top priority in the investigation.

Just last month, the international police agency Interpol urged law enforcement agencies worldwide to take steps to prevent the use of stolen passports by terrorists and criminals. It said its Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database – which contains more than 40 million records from 167 countries – is only being used by “a handful” of countries.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200 aircraft, was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members when it disappeared over the South China Sea at around 2:40 a.m. local time on Saturday. The aircraft had departed Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia at 12:41 a.m. and was scheduled to land in the Chinese capital of Beijing at around 6:30 a.m. As of Sunday morning, no wreckage had been found.

Texas semiconductor firm says 20 employees on board missing airliner

AUSTIN, TEXAS (BNO NEWS) — A Texas-based semiconductor firm said late Saturday that 20 of its employees – none of them American citizens – were passengers on the doomed Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared over the South China Sea between Malaysia and Vietnam.

Freescale Semiconductor, whose products serve the automotive, consumer, industrial and networking markets, said 20 of its employees had boarded flight MH370 in Kuala Lumpur en-route to the Chinese capital of Beijing. It said 12 of its employees are from Malaysia and eight are from China.

“The entire Freescale Semiconductor community is deeply saddened by this news,” said Freescale Semiconductor CEO and president Gregg Lowe. “At present, we are solely focused on our employees and their families. Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragic event.

The company said it has assembled counselors and other professionals through its Employee Assistance Program to provide support for those impacted. None of the Freescale Semiconductor employees on board the aircraft were American citizens.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200 aircraft, was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members when it disappeared over the South China Sea at around 2:40 a.m. local time on Saturday. The aircraft had departed Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia at 12:41 a.m. and was scheduled to land in the Chinese capital of Beijing at around 6:30 a.m. As of Sunday morning, no wreckage had been found.

3-year-old boy dies of bird flu in Cambodia’s capital

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA (BNO NEWS) — A three-year-old boy from the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh has died of bird flu after he was exposed to sick and dead poultry, the country’s health ministry confirmed on Friday. It marks the second bird flu death in Cambodia so far this year.

The child, from the village of Prey Lyea on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, developed a running nose, fever, cough, and began vomiting on February 22. His parents took the child to a private clinic that same day but his condition worsened and the boy was admitted to National Pediatric Hospital on February 28.

Last Sunday, when he was suffering from symptoms that included fever, cough, running nose, vomiting, dyspnea, and cyanoses, the boy was transferred to Calmette Hospital. “The boy died about one hour after his admission on March 2,” the country’s health ministry and the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a joint statement.

The Cambodian Health Ministry said more than 90 percent of the chickens and ducks in Prey Lyea had suddenly died around mid-February. “The boy was often going to a neighbor’s house where their poultry died. The relatives reported that the boy had no direct contact but the chickens died in close proximity to the house of the case,” the statement said.

After the boy died, the case was detected by the National Institute of Public Health, which sent samples taken from the child to the Cambodian Pasteur Institute (IPC), where it was confirmed the boy had been suffering from H5N1 influenza, making it the country’s second bird flu death so far this year. Four other victims this year have survived the illness.

“Avian influenza H5N1 remains a serious threat to the health of all Cambodians and more so for children, who seem to be the most vulnerable and are at high risk,” said Cambodian Health Minister Mam Bunheng. “There have been 53 cases of H5N1 infection in humans [in Cambodia] since 2005 and here is the sixth case of this year.”

Bunheng said children in the country often care for domestic poultry by feeding them, cleaning pens and gathering eggs, putting them at great risk for bird flu. “Children may also have closer contact with poultry as they often treat them as pets and also seem to be the most vulnerable and are at high risk because they like to play where poultry are found,” he added.

Since 2003, the H5N1 bird flu virus has killed or forced the culling of more than 400 million domestic poultry worldwide and caused an estimated $ 20 billion in economic damage before it was eliminated from most of the 63 infected countries. Cambodia, however, announced ‘bird flu contamination zones’ in Phnom Penh and Kandal province this week after hundreds of birds died.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the bird flu virus has infected more than 600 people since it first appeared, killing around 360 of them. Most cases and deaths were recorded in Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt and China. Cambodia has recorded a total of 53 cases of H5N1 bird flu since 2005, including 35 deaths.

UPDATE 7 — Malaysia Airlines plane disappears over South China Sea with 239 on board

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (BNO NEWS) — A Malaysia Airlines passenger plane carrying 239 people went missing early Saturday morning while flying over the South China Sea on a flight from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to the Chinese capital of Beijing, officials said, adding that a search and rescue operation was underway.

The airline said Flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200 aircraft, had departed Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. local time on Saturday and was expected to land in Beijing at around 6:30 a.m. local time. It said Subang Air Traffic Control in Malaysia lost contact with the airliner at 2:40 a.m. when it was over the South China Sea in Vietnam-controlled airspace.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense said the plane had entered Vietnamese-controlled airspace off southernmost Ca Mau province for about one minute before contact was lost. “Then all contacts and radar signal were lost. There has not been an accurate determination of the aircraft’s position,” the ministry said, adding that rescue workers had been notified.

The Vietnamese newspaper Tuổi Trẻ, citing a navy statement, said Flight 370 had crashed approximately 153 nautical miles (300 kilometers) off the country’s Thổ Chu Islands. It gave no other details, and it was not immediately clear whether the apparent crash site was estimated based on the aircraft’s last known position or whether any wreckage had been found.

Malaysia Airlines said relatives of passengers may contact +603 7884 1234 for more information. “Malaysia Airlines is currently working with the authorities who have activated their Search and Rescue team to locate the aircraft. The airline will provide regular updates on the situation,” it said in a brief statement.

The search for the missing airliner appeared to focus on an area of the South China Sea, roughly halfway between Kota Bharu in the Malaysian state of Kelantan and Vietnam’s southernmost province of Ca Mau. At least Malaysia, Vietnam, and two maritime rescue vessels from China were involved in the search and rescue operation.

Acting Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he had instructed all relevant agencies, including the Royal Malaysian Air Force, to work together to locate the missing plane. “Shocked thoughts and prayers with those on board,” he said. “To the family members of the passengers on board: stay calm and only get info from validated sources.”

Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the missing airliner was carrying a total number of 239 passengers and crew. “Our team is currently calling the next-of-kin of passengers and crew. Focus of the airline is to work with the emergency responders and authorities and mobilize its full support,” he said.

Of the 239 people on board, 227 were passengers, including two infants, and the remaining 12 were crew members. A passenger list was not immediately made available, but a list of nationalities showed 153 passengers including an infant from China, 38 passengers from Malaysia, 12 passengers from Indonesia, and seven passengers from Australia.

The other passengers on board were listed as: 3 from France, 4 including an infant from the United States, 2 from New Zealand, 2 from Ukraine, 2 from Canada, 1 from Russia, 1 from Italy, 1 from Taiwan, 1 from the Netherlands, and 1 from Austria. It was not immediately clear why the list of nationalities summed up to 228 passengers.

Yahya said the pilot of the flight, identified as 53-year-old Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah of Malaysia, was experienced with more than 18,350 flying hours, having joined the airline in 1981. The first officer was identified as 27-year-old Malaysian Fariq Ab.Hamid, having joined the airline in 2007 and accumulated more than 2,750 flying hours.

Malaysia Airlines, the flag carrier of Malaysia, has not suffered a major accident in more than 18 years. The most serious incident happened in December 1977 when Flight MH653 was hijacked and crashed near the town of Tanjung Kupang in the state of Johor, killing all 100 people on board.

UPDATE 6 — Malaysia Airlines jet carrying 239 missing on Kuala Lumpur-Beijing flight

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (BNO NEWS) — A Malaysia Airlines passenger plane carrying 239 people went missing early Saturday morning while flying in Vietnam-controlled air space on a flight from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to the Chinese capital of Beijing, officials said, adding that a search and rescue operation was underway.

The airline said Flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200 aircraft, had departed Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. local time on Saturday and was expected to land in Beijing at around 6:30 a.m. local time. It said Subang Air Traffic Control in Malaysia lost contact with the airliner at 2:40 a.m., when it reportedly was in Vietnam-controlled airspace.

“The flight was carrying a total number of 239 passengers and crew. The passengers were of 13 different nationalities,” said Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya. “Our team is currently calling the next-of-kin of passengers and crew. Focus of the airline is to work with the emergency responders and authorities and mobilize its full support.”

Of the 239 people on board, 227 were passengers, including two infants, and the remaining 12 were crew members. A passenger list or a list of nationalities was not immediately released by the airline, but China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said 160 Chinese nationals were among those on board.

“Malaysia Airlines is currently working with the authorities who have activated their Search and Rescue team to locate the aircraft. The airline will provide regular updates on the situation,” the airline said in a brief statement. It said relatives of passengers may contact +603 7884 1234 for more information.

Acting Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he instructed all relevant agencies, including the Royal Malaysian Air Force, to work together to locate the missing plane. “Shocked thoughts and prayers with those on board,” he said. “To the family members of the passengers on board: stay calm and only get info from validated sources.”

Malaysia Airlines, the flag carrier of Malaysia, has not suffered a fatal accident in more than 18 years. The most serious incident happened in December 1977 when Flight MH653 was hijacked and crashed near the town of Tanjung Kupang in the state of Johor, killing all 100 people on board.

F1 champion Michael Schumacher ‘still in wake-up phase’

By Tashauna Thompson

GRENOBLE, FRANCE (BNO NEWS) — Retired German race car driver Michael Schumacher remains in a “wake-up” phase with no change in his condition more than two months after a skiing accident in France, his spokeswoman said on Friday, responding to speculative media reports.

Doctors treating Schumacher, 45, at University Hospital in Grenoble in southeastern France are still working to bring him out of a medically-induced coma. “Michael is still in the wake-up phase. The situation has not changed,” spokeswoman Sabine Kehm reported on Friday.

Various news organizations have repeatedly speculated on the condition of the Formula One legend, but Kehm insisted on Friday that any medical information which has not been confirmed by the team of doctors treating Schumacher or his management team should be considered as “not valid.”

The seven-time champion suffered a severe head injury from a skiing accident on December 29, 2013, when he fell and hit a rock while skiing with his family on the slopes of the French Alps in Meribel. Schumacher went into a medically-induced coma and has since undergone two operations to remove blood clots from his brain.

In late January, Kehm said doctors were reducing sedation to allow the start of a waking up process, which had been predicted to take a “long time.” Schumacher’s family added last month they continue to “strongly believe” in the recovery of the racing legend and have placed “all their trust” in the doctors and nurses.

In early January, around 100 fans traveled to the hospital in Grenoble to mark Schumacher’s 45th birthday, projecting onto the side of the hospital building a message that read: “45. Schumi, stay strong! Keep fighting!” Some of the fans had traveled hours to show their support to the family.

Schumacher, with 90 wins, 68 pole positions, 75 fastest laps, 1354 points and seven world titles, is regarded by many as the greatest Formula One driver of all time. He won two titles with Benetton, in 1994 and 1995, before switching to Ferrari in 1996 and going on to win five consecutive titles from 2000.

He first retired after winning the 2006 Italian Grand Prix but returned to Formula One in February 2010, only to retire for a second time after finishing in 14th position at the Brazilian Grand Prix in November 2012.

Russia test-fires ballistic missile, plans 2 more tests this month

By James Valles

MOSCOW, RUSSIA (BNO NEWS) — Russian military forces carried out a planned test-fire of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) on late Tuesday evening, despite growing tensions and talk of Russian military intervention in Ukraine, but officials indicated the events were unrelated.

The Strategic Rocket Forces said it launched at 10:10 p.m. local time an SS-25 Topol ballistic missile from the Kapustin Yar test site in southern Astrakhan Oblast toward the Sary Shagan testing range in Kazakhstan, where the dummy warhead successfully reached its target. The test firing was carried out to test a new type of combat payload, the ministry of defense said.

Tests of new warheads on Topol missiles from Kapustin Yar have become relatively common, as Tuesday’s test-firing follows two similar events that took place in October and December 2013. But the third test came at a sensitive time as Russian forces have taken control of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, with demands from the West to pull back.

“Although the test took place at the time of increased tensions caused by Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, the launch was definitely not related to these developments as these tests are normally scheduled some time in advance,” said a spokesperson for the military’s Rocket Forces.

U.S. officials confirmed they had received advance notification for Tuesday’s launch prior to the Crimean crisis. “This was a previously notified and routine test launch of an ICBM. As required under the New START Treaty, Russia provided advance notification of this launch to the United States,” said U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.

Hayden added: “Such advance notifications are intended to provide transparency, confidence, and predictability and to help both sides avoid misunderstandings. Russia and the United States routinely flight test their ICBMs and SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missiles).”

Tuesday’s test-firing was followed with an announcement from the Kazakhstan Ministry of Defense on early Wednesday that Russia plans to carry out two more tests later this month. It said the plan for the tests was signed in November 2013 although Kazakhstan did not give its final go-ahead until last Friday.

“According to the plan, three missile test launches were scheduled for March 2014. The Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Kazakhstan received applications for testing on February 19, 2014, and approved them on February 28 this year,” the ministry said. “In accordance with established procedure, the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Kazakhstan notified relevant state and local authorities.”

Russia and the United States routinely flight test their ICBMs and SLBMs. The New Start Treaty, signed by President Obama in 2011, requires U.S. and Russia to limit the number of strategic arms within seven years from the date the Treaty entered into force. The treaty does not contain any constraints on testing, developing, or deployment of current or planned missile defense programs.

Bus fire in northeast China kills 10, injures 17

By Kelcey Caulder

CHANGCHUN, CHINA (BNO NEWS) — Ten people were killed Wednesday and more than a dozen others were injured when a fire broke out on board a private bus in northeast China, state-run media reported, just days after another bus fire claimed the lives of six people.

The latest incident happened at approximately 7:05 a.m. local time on Wednesday when a shuttle bus of the Fukang wood company caught fire while traveling along a street in Jilin, a city in the northeastern province that carries the same name.

The state-run Xinhua news agency said ten people were killed and seventeen others were injured. It said a total of 43 people were on board the shuttle bus at the time of the blaze.

There was no immediate word on the cause of the incident, but local police have launched an investigation.

On Sunday, a man who “lost his mental balance” after accusing his wife of infidelity, ignited a barrel of gasoline on a bus in southwest China’s Guizhou Province. The fire left six dead, 35 injured and the suspect was taken into custody.

Roads in China are known to be among the most dangerous in the world with more than 70,000 fatalities and 300,000 injuries a year, according to the country’s Public Security Ministry. Many accidents are the result of drivers violating traffic laws, fatigue, poor road conditions and overloaded vehicles.

In June 2013, a bus in the eastern Chinese city of Xiamen burst into flames, killing 47 people and injuring 34 others. And in June 2009, a bus in the Chinese city of Chengdu caught fire, killing 25 passengers.

NATO airstrike in Afghanistan’s east kills 5 Afghan soldiers

By Kelcey Caulder

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (BNO NEWS) — Five Afghan soldiers were “accidentally” killed Thursday when the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) carried out an airstrike in eastern Afghanistan, officials said. It is likely to further anger the country’s president who has refused to sign a security agreement with the United States.

The incident happened at around 4 a.m. local time on Thursday when ISAF carried out an airstrike in the Charkh district of Logar province, which is located in Afghanistan’s volatile eastern region. The airstrike destroyed a facility belonging to the Afghan National Army (ANA).

Coalition officials acknowledged five Afghan soldiers were killed in an operation, while Afghan officials said 17 others had been injured, some of them seriously. An ISAF spokesperson expressed its condolences over the deaths and said an investigation into the circumstances had been launched.

“An investigation is being conducted at this time to determine the circumstances that led to this unfortunate accident. Our condolences go out to the families of the ANA soldiers who lost their lives and were wounded,” ISAF said, declining to provide further comment when asked for more information.

ISAF’s Regional Command East also expressed its condolences and pledged to work with Afghan officials to prevent similar incidents in the future. “We are all partners in the fight to create a free and stable Afghanistan. We will continue to work with our Afghan partners to ensure that this does not happen again,” the force said.

The NATO airstrike is certain to anger outgoing President Hamid Karzai, who previously ordered all coalition airstrikes to end unless previously cleared by the Afghan government. Karzai last year ordered a complete ban on Afghan security forces calling in airstrikes in residential areas and was deeply critical of international airstrikes that repeatedly resulted in the accidental deaths of civilians.

NATO forces in Afghanistan have a current strength of over 52,000 service members, including approximately 34,000 U.S. troops and 5,200 British soldiers. Most foreign troops are scheduled to leave the war-torn country by the end of the year as Karzai has refused to sign a security deal with the United States that would permit foreign troops to remain within the country beyond that date.